Thursday, March 6, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Not rumored, not maybe, not hypothetically; it’s happening.

A reaction of two minds stems from this news; one fondly envisioning the industry leading cinematic package of The Last of Us, the other understandably noting that there has yet to be a truly great video game film.

As one who holds The Last of Us as my favorite game from last generation, I can’t get upset or excited by this news.

The name drops behind this adaptation is unquestionably reassuring: the film will be written by Neil Druckmann, creative director of the game, along with having Naughty Dog’s involvement; and the film will be produced by Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures. Though I can’t care less about the producer at the moment, knowing that Druckmann will be leading the story in the film as well is the best news anyone can hear in relation to the movie.

Outside of trailers repeating on old G4’s Cinematech (remember that show?) I’ve watched a small handful of cutscenes from The Last of Us more than any other video game in recent and distant memory. It has that big screen quality of it, from the back-dropped soundtrack to the natural chemistry between all performers on screen. The potential is undoubtedly there as anyone who didn’t know what The Last of Us was (and that includes video games) would have easily mistaken the game for a film.

But that’s part of what makes The Last of Us so iconic; this is a game, not a film.

From what Naughty Dog achieved on the Playstation 3 with The Last of Us to whatever marvels they’ll accomplish on the Playstation 4’s Uncharted, Naughty Dog has been one of the only developers who’ve defied our expectations consistently with the level of film quality that games can accomplish. Such an achievement of its own medium would be diminished when put in the context of film. It would be an important and meaningful movie for fans of the game, but how could it fair next to other films that it had ostensibly taken inspiration from or at least can be compared to: The Road, Children of Men, etc?

These are valid concerns for any video game that’s adapted into a film, but on a personal note, I’m worried about the legacy of the franchise. Part of the crux that held together The Last of Us so tightly was the glue that bound the methodical progression, the tense combat, the appropriately evocative performances, and morose story. The gameplay led the story and visa-versa. In a movie adaptation of The Last of Us, it loses nearly half of that magic.

I also feel that this potentially places the hypothetical PS4 follow up to a much higher standard. The Last of Us stands on its own as a solitary masterpiece; a franchise all on its own. But splicing in a film and a sequel makes the name less special that might be off set by bloated expectations.

Imagine a movie adaptation and a sequel to Journey, a movie adaptation and a sequel to Shadow of the Colossus, a movie adaptation and sequel to Brothers. These are extreme art-house examples, but they illustrate my point of games that work best on their own, and best as games. 

But regardless my reaction, and the many, many increasingly cynical reactions of others, we can all hope that this will be the greatest video game film of all time.

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